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Succeeding through dyslexia and other reading disabilities

Written By: Eddie Snipes - Jun• 22•11

Thirteen-hundred words to encourage those with dyslexia and reading disabilities.

I wasn’t a smart kid. I wasn’t dumb either, but my dyslexia and the system I found myself in certainly made me feel that way. Reading Dyslexia and learning disabilitieswas a challenge for me. Before I share my story, let me tell a little about myself today. As you shall see, this article is far from a bragging session. The reason I feel the need to share is to show you that those who struggle as I did can overcome. When I worked in IT, a coworker spoke about her son and lamented over his lack of academic performance. She was clearly concerned about her child’s future. When I shared my story with her, she said, “You don’t know how much hope you’ve given me.”

That’s what I want this article to do for you.

Dyslexia Disabled Dreams

In 1992 I worked in a warehouse. It was a step above the type of construction work I had been doing, and it was as far as my dreams would take me. I had no dreams of greatness. When I was engaged to my wife, her father expressed concern about my career, even offering to pay for me to go to college. I said, “I will never go to college, and I will never work in an office.” Life threw me a curve on that one, but that’s a different story.

In the last two decades, I became an IT professional, and soon discovered a natural knack for technical skills. I finished technical college with a 3.9 GPA, which as you will see, is no small miracle. My career took off and I’ve gone a long way down a successful road. In 1998, I discovered a new talent I also never dreamed of. Writing. It began with prison ministry. Prisoners weren’t allowed to have many things, but printed paper was one thing they could have. By request, I started writing out the things we were studying. It was a necessity at first, but I soon began to get better and started enjoying writing. Since 1998, I’ve written well over thirty-thousand pages of various articles, studies, and manuscripts.

I’ve written three full length manuscripts, and one is published. My book, I Called Him Dancer, continues to sell well, and as of this writing, it enjoys a five star rating. I’ve gotten many letters from people who tell me how they connected with the characters and were inspired by the story. One of my favorite complements was from someone who said they were impressed with the quality of the writing. As you continue to read, you’ll see why that’s a big deal for me. Here’s a shameless plug. You can read the kindle, nook, or Apple version for only 99 cents!

The successes I’m sharing serve to make an important point. It’s easy for someone to say, “You can succeed,” or, “There is hope for your child,” but hearing from someone who has been there – no, is still there – can be a great encouragement. But to succeed, each individual must first realize that the bars that have them caged in are merely a mirage. For more than half my life, I lived in the box of limitation without realizing I could climb out.

My story of dyslexia and my reading disability

Let me give you a glimpse into my childhood. As a third grader, I remember sitting in Ms. Severt’s class, dreading having to announce my progress in reading. The class had been given an assignment to read. I didn’t read it. The teacher sat at her desk and marked in her grade book as she called each name. We had to answer one question, “How much of the assignment did you read.”

She started with the last names that began with ‘A’. Mine begins with ‘S’. It was like watching a train coming down the track in slow motion. It was barreling towards me, but I had no way to escape it. She started calling out the B’s and C’s. I heard each person declare, “I read all of it.” Not one person said anything less.

She wrote as she rolled through the R’s and began the S’s. Then the teacher called my name. Hoping she wouldn’t notice, I said, “Some of it.” She did notice.

Instead of calling the next name, she stopped and looked up. Every eye in the class looked back. “How much is some of it?” I shrugged. “Did you read half?” I looked down and shook my head. “Did you read any of it?” Without taking my eyes off my desk, I shook my head again. Giggles echoed softly around the room while she complained about my lack of effort. I didn’t pay attention to the rest of her words, I could only hope the train would start rolling again and leave me behind.

Leave me behind it did. I finished high school with a ‘D’ average.

I have dyslexia. By most standards, I would be considered to have a reading disability. A disability I never outgrew. Most people who know me now would never guess it. Anyone who knew me during childhood probably wouldn’t be surprised. It wasn’t laziness. It was a limitation. But I didn’t understand that at the time. These limitations are just as much part of my life today as they were in the third grade. But how I approach it is quite different. You see, what is called a disability is, in most cases, a difference in learning style.

We don’t call someone who can’t play music disabled. But technically, they may have a music disability. Someone who can’t catch a football isn’t called disabled. People who hate math aren’t called disabled. But reading is a different story. Each person is wired differently, and what causes someone to be gifted in one area, may be the cause of their limitations in another area. Forcing students to learn through their limitations only causes them to feel inferior. You wouldn’t consider a duck to be a failure because it can’t run on land, nor would you call a lion a failure because it can’t fly or skim across the water. So why are students forced to learn in ways they are not equipped?

I’ve worked with many people and I’ve seen individuals that were considered to be incompetent suddenly begin to thrive when they took a different position. The truth is, we are all incompetent in areas where we are not equipped. I’m good with computers and technology. If someone has a technology problem that has plagued them for days, they think I’m a genius when I quickly resolve it. But put me in front of a drafting table and assign me the simplest task and I’m lost as a lion trying to skim across a lake. The solution is to find strengths rather than forcing ourselves into a mold that is built around our weaknesses.

Words can be your friends

In my younger days, words were my enemies. Today, they are beloved friends. How can someone who struggles to read be able to thrive when writing? I don’t know. The brain is something I can’t understand. But thankfully there are tools like Text Aloud that help compensate for my lack of reading comprehension. I can read, but the longer I read, the more my mind disengages. Soon I find myself reading words but not thinking about what they mean. It takes great concentration for me to stay focused, and it can be taxing. Without even realizing it, I’m thinking about something unrelated to what I’m reading.  I know everyone does this to some extent, but we audio learners are stuck in that limitation.

With audio I can listen while I read, and it keeps me engaged. Plus, Text Aloud has a follow along feature that highlights words as they are read. This tool has had more of an impact on my reading and writing than any other tool or discipline. I call it my proofreading partner.

Reading is one skill that’s hard to get along without. Fortunately, the text-to-audio feature of the Kindle eReader opens the world of reading to people like me. And Text Aloud provides the opportunity to read articles, emails, and my own writing like never before.

Who knows, you may discover skills you never knew you had. Or skills you didn’t know your child had.

Misunderstandings about strengths and limitations can destroy a person’s confidence, and build bars that imprison us who struggle to thrive within the established system of learning. Once we understand that our limitations are normal, and that we have other gifts to explore, we can find our niche. Confidence is found when we focus on discovering our gifts instead of dwelling on abilities we lack.

I hope my experience has been an encouragement to you. Share this article on Twitter, or Facebook. The links below make it easy to share.

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23 Comments

  1. Staci Stallings says:

    Eddie, I considered writing to you privately, but on the off-chance that someone might come here and see this and it might help, I will say this publicly. My son has dyslexia as well. He is 8–about to enter 3rd grade. I knew something was dreadfully wrong in 1st grade, but no one would help us. Our private school did not have resources and the public school told us that they no longer consider dyslexia a learning disability, so they were not required to help us.

    Between 1st and 2nd grades, I finally figured out what was wrong, and we started “working on it.” However, midway through 2nd grade we finally found a real answer. My son’s eyes, though 20/20 in sight, were not seeing properly. They would “bounce” and “shake” as he read. He was not even seeing letters properly. bag, beg, and bog literally looked like the same word to him. He had been memorizing everything, struggling to read like his peers.

    We began Vision Therapy (think weight training for your eyes) in February. In six weeks his pages per night had increased dramatically. He stopped guessing to get through a passage. He was finally, actually READING. We (him and I) started back at kinder level reading, and we are now solidly at the end of 1st grade and breaking into 2nd grade level. I hope to have him well at 3rd grade level by the end of the summer.

    To parents out there, please know that your child is not dumb or stupid. Glasses will not help. If possible you need to find a Vision Therapy clinic near you. I know it saved my son from exactly the horror Eddie recounts here. Praise the Lord for advances and for brave forerunners like Eddie. My hope is that we can get the word out and others can be saved this humiliation that no child deserves.

    Thanks for your courage in posting, Eddie! It does give me hope!

    • Eddie Snipes says:

      You’re comments are a great encouragement.

      Though, I am amazed that dyslexia is something the educational system doesn’t recognize as a reading disability. The evidence is overwhelming, and there are countless examples of adults who now realize that dyslexia was their problem in school. For every success story, how many people are left behind? Because they bombed in school, most will never try to explore other avenues to search out their gifts and talents.

      I applaud you, as a parent, for not accepting defeat and finding a way to teach your child to learn. Feeling like the lone dummy in a class room is a lot to overcome. Confidence is an important part of learning.

      • Staci Stallings says:

        I whole-heartedly agree! Throughout first grade when my son devolved so far that he actually started having mini-seizures (didn’t know why at the time, now understand his brain and eyes were fighting to work so hard that they had to “shut down” for a few moments to avoid complete meltdown), my biggest fear was that he would lose hope and lose faith in himself.

        I knew we would find the answer through the Grace and help of God, but if he gave up on himself, that would be a killer.

        As a parent, I can’t tell you how heartwrenching it is to see this child who is so full of potential and life slowly shut down as he sees everyone else can do it but I can’t. Ugh. It was awful.

        Through the Grace of God and His loving guidance, somehow we both kept working at it, looking for an answer, believing there to be one. We’ve had many breakthroughs, most of them being when I finally understood an aspect of what he was going through. It was in those times that my frustration was supplanted by compassion and understanding. I honestly believe that my son and I were sent here as a team to first live through this, to gain understanding, and then to help others.

        Bless God for the path He has put us on though it is not one I would have chosen.

  2. Marci says:

    As a parent with a dyslexic son who also was lost in a school that refused to provide a program that would remediate his dyslexia, or to take the time and attention to get that this is a bright kid who struggles with reading, specifically, phonics. I did what every parent would do, tried to get the resources and programs necessary to help. I connected with other parents who also had dyslexic kids, (it was not easy to find each other as all the acadmic information was considered confidential) and supported each other with information and resources. I must say that was the key to our journey, connecting with people who have had success and walked before us. Thank you for sharing your story and for the inspiration it provides and for other parents with kids who are struggling, get the right help, a phonics based intensive reading program and work it. Glasses will not help, color overlays will not help, hard work, a consistent program and love and support will! My son after 4 years of Alpha Phonics reads at a post college level. Dyslexia presents iteself in many ways and he will always have challenges related to print, (math), but the road is much clearer now. Find support for yourself and your child and stay away from “quick fixes”, there aren’t any!

    • Eddie Snipes says:

      Thanks for commenting, Marci! You’re advice is very helpful. Getting connected is always a great value in any area of life. Especially when we are in need of support. And we also get the opportunity to be supportive to others. You’re right, looking for a quick fix is rarely the answer. Dedication and perseverance are.

  3. Hi! What a cool idea…I like it, a lot! I have a sports disability, for starters. I could go on and on. School, luckily for me, fed my gifts. It’s life that sucks.

    But, my son has math disabilities. And like you, he “gets” the higher order stuff. Just not the “+”,”-“, “x”, and “/” stuff. So it’s not surprising you should be an author to me. He’s just 17, but he didn’t do school well so we homeschooled and he’s going to tech to see if his interests are gifts. I beleive he can be an engineer. Or inventor.

    My brother Tim didn’t do school well or the maths…he’s a lawyer now and pays accountants to count his money.

    • Eddie Snipes says:

      Love the username you picked :)

      It’s wonderful when someone’s success story is, “I hired someone to do what I can’t.” Kudos to your brother!

      I’m sure your son will do well. My daughter absolutely hates math. She’s very bright and gifted, but math is a struggle. Fortunately, my kids are all readers, so they didn’t inherit my slysdexia. At least not at a level similar to mine.

      • Staci Stallings says:

        Hey, Eddie, did you know that there is a math correlation to dyslexia? It’s called dyscalculia. It is caused by roughly the same things that cause dyslexia only it has to do with the processing of numbers. It can present in kids having trouble putting things into columns or in them transposing numbers as they write them. Maybe your daughter inherited a twist of dyslexia and it only presents itself in math. Just a thought.

        • Eddie Snipes says:

          That’s very possible. Two of my daughters struggle with math. I’m a number transposer, too. When it comes to numbers, dyslexia is very strange. I have to call out the number as I write it. I either say it wrong, or write it wrong, but rarely are both wrong. If I whisper the numbers to myself and there is a mismatch, I recheck.

          • Staci Stallings says:

            Numbers present similar problems to spelling as I have learned the hard way with my son. The only difference is there is no sound component to numbers like there is spelling. So a spelled word would sound like “Cat.” With the k sound, the a sound and the t sound.

            In spelling the trick is to have a mental picture of which “k” sound to use. Actually, this was the first word he ever misspelled on a spelling test.

            Numbers don’t have that. 1,345 doesn’t have any pattern to it. There are no sounds associated with it to figure out if you got it right. But it’s the same principle. No mental picture of the number as it’s said, means less chance of recall as you write it.

      • Thanks about the username…My dad used to tell me that quite a bit. I was a little “scattered”.

        The more I think of it, though…it’s pretty darn appropriate. For ALL kids. Instead of trying to make them like everybody else, lets work with the power within! I have become aware of many, many powerful, gifted people who might have visited brain doctors or something of the sort…G.K. Chesterton, for my favorite example.

        You’d think people would begin to catch on…

  4. Eddie,
    You echo my sentiments exactly. I host a site called Living the Body of Christ, because I hate the idea of the one-size-fits-all mentality. We were not created the same, nor were we meant to be. Imagine a body with all feet. Kinda crazy! Imagine a Body of Christ with all teachers. Lots of information dissemination, but no one to do anything with it. Glad your found your thing!!!

    • Eddie Snipes says:

      Thanks, Connie! You’re right. If everyone had the same gifts and talents, some of us wouldn’t be necessary. Everyone has value and is designed with a purpose. It’s not for us to choose our gifts and abilities. It’s for us to use what we have been given with faithfulness and obedience.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts. You’re right on the money.

  5. Eddie: Thanks for sharing.

    I will pass your article along on Fb & Twitter.

    Thanks,

    Richard

  6. Hey Eddy,
    Thanx for sharing. As many of you I discovered I had dyslexia on my late teen years but all my school years I knew there was something different about me since I always had problems with numbers and reading but not in a dramatic way. I’ve always been an outspoken nerd and love studying but I just avoided anything to do with numbers because no matter how well I knew the algebra operations I knew I would end up writing the numbers in the wrong order then fail. Luckily like any person with a disability I developed loads of skills to compensate and actually I’m very candid about it. I might get annoyed when I have to dial a number 5 times before I get it right but I can live with it.
    Although I am aware that is not that easy for other people and have a really bad time at school and home, when I was taking a course at university on “psychology and development” and read about disabilities, syndromes, etc. then I took noticed and realized I was dyslexic. I just though Ohhhh that explains many things!.
    Anyway I rely on technology to get things written correctly, make an effort to get phone numbers right, and make sure I remember how things happen *in the correct order*, above all I just have a laugh when I realize I’ve just got it sdrawkcab (backwards) -again.

  7. Eddie, your story is very engaging not only to those with dyslexia, but a great tale of overcoming adversity to find success that could resonate with anyone. I know it resonated with us! We were especially intrigued by your lines about ducks and lions that were very clever and raise interesting points. We should never let our limitations hold us back. Thanks for sharing your story!

    • Eddie Snipes says:

      Thank you. I’m very encouraged by the fact that you got something from the article. You’re right. We all have something to overcome, so this could apply to anyone who has a battle ahead of them.

  8. jacqueline says:

    Thanks so much for your article! I struggled through school and worked so hard to get average grades and developed an anxiety of exams. It took a huge toll on myself esteem. I always thought it was because I wasn’t clever. Then when I was 28 years old I found out I had serve dyslexia. It came a such good news. Although at first I was very sad I hadn’t known sooner.
    Since finding out I have dyslexia I changed my life completely so that I work with my strengths. When I did this I became more happier and successful than I thought possible.
    Now more is becoming known about dyselixa it would be great if schools were flexible to help all styles of learning so that heartache and struggles were no longer the norm.

    • Eddie Snipes says:

      Very true, Jacqueline. I’m amazed at the fact dyslexia is not recognized as a learning disability. I agree that if dyslexia could be identified earlier in life, kids could have a better chance of learning effectively and taking advantage of their skills, instead of wrestling with their limitations.

  9. Lorene says:

    I have a healthy happy 9 year old son that I have been trying to get help for, for several years. I am a teacher and have found the process to be extremely frustrating. The schools testing didn’t show any real results, expect that he isn’t reading and that his IQ is just fine. I had to take him to a larger city, this past summer, to get testing done. I found out that he has dyslexia and dysgraphia. I am still struggling with how to help him. School is so frustrating to him. He is working outside of his comfort zone almost all of the time. He loves math and science. But, with the dysgraphia, they are hard as well. I am looking to connect with other people who have gone before me. I need a program I can trust or a list of good programs. I need to know how to deal with his education so that he isn’t destroyed in the process. He is a bright, loving, sweet person. The system is hurting him.

    • Staci Stallings says:

      Lorene, Wow do I relate to everything you’ve said here. Son having trouble. Former teacher. Frustration. His IQ is good. Not reading. Not much help at school. Even the happy, healthy 9-year-old part! What turned it around for us was Vision Therapy. My son had vision problems–shaky eyes, trouble jump-focusing, etc. that made reading nearly impossible (and accounted for all of the frustrating things he was doing when he tried to read). After VT, the “other things” we’d tried suddenly worked–like Hooked on Phonics, etc. Look into VT. That could well be what’s causing your issues.

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